News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, July 5, 2022: A Caribbean American first Black secretary of the Army and former adviser to three U.S. Presidents, has passed away at the age of 88.
Clifford L. Alexander, Jr., who was born on Sept. 21, 1933, in Harlem to a Jamaican immigrant father who managed the Riverton Houses, a sprawling residential development in Harlem financed by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and an African American mother, died on Sunday, July 3rd at his home in Manhattan of heart failure according to the New York Times.
Alexander Jr., had a long career as a leading adviser to 3 Democratic presidents, that ranged from working behind the scenes on landmark legislation like the Voting Rights Act to high-profile roles like serving as the first Black secretary of the Army.
Alexander’s parents valued and encouraged his education. He graduated in 1951 from Fieldston, a private high school in New York City, and went on to Harvard University, where he was elected the first African American student body president and graduated cum laude in 1955 with a B.A. in government.
In 1958, he earned a law degree from Yale University. Soon after, while serving with the Army National Guard, Alexander became an assistant New York County district attorney.
In 1961, he became executive director of Manhattanville-Hamilton-Grange Neighborhood Conservation Project, working to improve housing conditions. He then served a year as executive director of the federal government’s Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy brought the twenty-nine year-old Alexander to Washington, D.C. to serve on the National Security Council. From 1964 through 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Alexander as deputy assistant, deputy special counsel, and then associate special counsel to the president. He became one of Johnson’s closest advisers on civil rights as well as many other matters.
Also under Johnson, Alexander was appointed, confirmed and then served as chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from 1967 to 1969. Under his leadership the EEOC assisted about 70,000 people, compared with only 5,000 under the previous chairman. In widely publicized hearings, Alexander questioned a variety of large employers about their hiring practices and also gained assurances from the major TV networks that they would strive to portray minorities in less demeaning fashions. One of the networks hired the very first minority as a national reporter just a few weeks after those public hearings in New York.
Leaving government service in 1969, Alexander became the first black partner at a major Washington law firm when he joined Arnold & Porter. He then went on to Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Alexander. In this period, he also taught law at Howard University and Georgetown University Law Center, ran unsuccessfully in the District of Columbia’s first mayoral election in more than a century, became a television news commentator, and had his own syndicated program, “Cliff Alexander, Black on White.”
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Alexander as Secretary of the Army, a position that he held until 1981. As secretary, Alexander tackled many existing problems, such as inequitable procurement procedures and the unequal treatment of women and minorities in uniform.
He successfully guided the Army’s transition to an all-volunteer force and promoted thirty blacks to general, including the first black woman.
In 1981, he founded Alexander & Associates, Inc., a consulting firm that advises corporations on workforce inclusiveness. He served on the boards of Mutual of America Life Insurance Company and several Dreyfus mutual funds and was chairman and CEO of the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation, and chairman of Moody’s Corporation.
Alexander was married to Adele Logan Alexander, a professor at George Washington University. Their daughter Elizabeth is a professor at Yale University and a poet and their son Mark, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, who worked as policy director for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.